We discussed all morning about culture. We actually spent a lengthy bit of time discussing American culture and how even that has changed frequently and it constantly changing! Kind of like understanding ourselves – if we don’t understand our own culture, we can’t understand anybody else’s.
Living in Montreal and attending such an ethnic church, I figured I had a pretty good handle on culture. I probably have a better handle than some who have never left the States, but I am far from knowing a drop in the ocean at this point!
There are lots of different aspects of culture that we had to take quizzes on to figure out where we stand. Things like time vs. event oriented; person vs. task oriented; crisis vs. noncrisis oriented; dichotomistic vs. holistic thinking; and status focus vs. achievement focus. Those are just a few! There are many. Anyway – I am quite American. Brian could actually be more Latin in his thinking! Good for him. 😛 ha! Anyway.
Our instructor had us visualize this in a very interesting activity that I think more people should have to do! We were divided up into four groups and were given sheets describing our culture. We then had to come up with how the culture would look in different every-day circumstances. The culture I had to work with was very meek, humble, almost apologetic in greeting others, but used very graceful, large movements. Brian’s was very structured, viewed themselves as superior, very equality oriented. We were not told what any other culture was before we did this exercise – we just knew what we had to work with.
We had to come up with the ways we would greet others from a distance, others from up close, invite others into our home, invite them to be seated, offer them a gift, and say goodbye. Sounds easy, right? Oh, SO WRONG. Especially since every other group had a completely different culture!!!
Our group decided we needed to bow to others in a graceful, fluid manner (this must’ve looked hilarious). We were to sit on the floor and never, ever look anyone in the eye. This may sound weird, but there are people who live this way, so don’t laugh. We were very almost self-deprecating, always putting the others up and before ourselves.
However, when we went to “visit” other “cultures” it was really hard! One group was very loud and “in your face” – always demanding eye contact and not wanting to give us space. One group was very demanding – you must do things our way!! Another group really couldn’t care less, they did what they wanted regardless of what we thought or how we acted.
We each had to “host” another culture and then we each had to “visit” other cultures. And keep our “culture” intact. By the time we were done – an hour later – we were EXHAUSTED! We even got almost defensive that, especially the one group, was so abrasive and not respecting of how we were doing things at all. They would kneel down in front of us and try to look us in the eye and would not speak to us at all unless they could look into our eyes. And yet, to us, we weren’t worthy to look at them and it was completely offensive! Weird, huh?
The premise of the entire exercise was to help us learn the title of this blog: “It’s not right or wrong – it’s just different!” The one thing they keep pounding into us is that CULTURE in and of itself is not wrong. There are ASPECTS that are obviously right or very obviously wrong, but as a whole, culture is merely how we live. Fascinating. Just, absolutely fascinating. The one main thing she pointed out at the end was that when we went back through and “evaluated” what we thought of the other cultures, most of what we came up with was negative. Why? Because we were basing everyone off of our own American culture! She said, “The easiest way to convince anyone of sin is to show them their ethnocentrism – which is a form of pride. Every culture, every person, is ethnocentric at least to a point in their thinking.”
The other thing we went through this morning was on forgiveness. One thing they encourage us to do is NEVER leave without working things out with people. Our instructor this morning told us her testimony about forgiveness. While she and her husband were in Austria (this is the short version!!), her oldest son was murdered…and then mutilated. There was no reason for it; his gift of mercy never got mixed in with discernment and he lost his life for someone else he was trying to help. Even though she went through anger, bitterness, resentment – the Lord worked in her life enough that she actually began corresponding with her son’s murderer and forgave him. She eventually shared the Gospel with him and a year later, he claimed to have found forgiveness. She said they’re not sure if he ever truly accepted Christ, but she knows that she obeyed the Lord and it’s in His hands now. Since then, she has been asked to speak at a maximum security prison, talking about forgiveness to the men who committed heinous crimes. And the first ones her husband relates to…are the murderers. Wow.
Okay. We’re very tired, so I think we’re going to head to bed now. And by “we”, yes, I mean “me.”